Foreign Affairs

American Unpopularity Abroad: What It Really Means

(London) — It is impossible to spend even a few days in Europe without encountering the striking anti-Americanism that suffuses the political media of the continent. Barack Obama’s spiritual mentor Rev. Jeremiah Wright would feel quite at home here.
Extensive polling shows that this constant drumbeat of leftist propaganda has also filtered down to ordinary citizens.

This “unpopularity” has been known to Americans for years but evidence suggests we haven’t understood its root causes or decided what to do about it.

Approaching the November election it is clear the Democratic Party is seeking to grossly misrepresent this “unpopularity” as they did in 2004.

The Democratic narrative goes like this: Get the troops out of Iraq and Barack or Hillary into the White House and American popularity abroad will soar. Group hugs will abound. Old allies will become new friends, and vie with one another to pony up more money and troops for all good causes. Arm in arm we’ll suppress the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, stand up to Russia and China, rally to the defense of Israel, and put an end to global warming.

They suggest that all we need is more dialogue, understanding and meetings. Obama has declared that he will start meeting everybody immediately following his inauguration. The deeply experienced Hillary says she has already met everyone who matters (despite occasional sniper fire at the airport).

It all sounds like a twenty-first century update of “Make Love not War.”

In truth this Democratic narrative is a pure fantasy with no basis in reality whatsoever.

Global anti-Americanism is a well documented phenomena going back at least half a century. Iraq is but the latest episode. “Bush-hatred” is tame compared to the venom directed at LBJ over Vietnam or Reagan over Pershing Missiles and the Nuclear
Freeze.

Today the United States is the world’s sole “hyper power,” a colossus whose economic and military might dwarfs that of any possible rival. Throughout history such eminence inevitably attracts envy and resentment, and whenever the “hyper power” gets into difficulty emboldened critics go into gleeful overdrive.

For Americans wishing assurance that “unpopularity” is no moral defect but rather a symptom of how the world works, history provides a superb precedent: Great Britain in the year 1900.

In that year Britain presided over an Empire that encompassed one quarter of the earth’s population, maintained a navy twice the size of its nearest rival, and held global financial and commercial interests far surpassing any other nation.

The “hyper power” of its’ day Britain nonetheless faced distractions that have a familiar ring: territorial collisions with Russia in Afghanistan and France in Sudan; a growing naval challenge from Imperial Germany and even a serious threat of war with the United States over a Venezuelan boundary dispute.

Britain’s vulnerability was heightened when it became bogged down in the Boer War in distant South Africa, and a brutal “insurgency” that followed the war. Anti-British feeling was rampant throughout the civilized world, and particularly inflamed in the United States.

The last and greatest of Queen Victoria’s Prime Ministers- Lord Salisbury (see Andrew Robert’s masterful Salisbury, Victorian Titan) — observed to his nephew and future successor Arthur Balfour: “We seem to be cordially hated by virtually every nation, however I am confident that patient diplomacy, strong faith and unyielding determination will carry us through.” Salisbury — architect of the modern Conservative Party — also served as his own Foreign Minister, and further said: “Happily, most of these nations distrust each other even more than they dislike us.”

Salisbury finally found the right general — Lord Roberts of Kandahar — and as he predicted his combination of skillful diplomacy and ceaseless military pressure brought about a successful and enduring Peace. (South Africa would be among Britain’s most stalwart supporters through the fire of two World Wars).

In a still relevant voice that speaks to us across a turbulent century, Salisbury sagely observed that: “It is difficult enough to go around doing what is right without going around trying to do what is popular.”

Useful food for thought in America’s current hour of travail and decision.

Sign Up